Supporting Collaborative Learning Design Experiences

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Educators face a complex assortment of challenges each day. Heading the list is how best to help people achieve their full learning potential. We’re revolutionizing the way educators design learning experiences by equipping them with visual design solutions that save time, enhance clarity, and improve learning results.


Stacy Southerland, PhD, is a Professor of Spanish and Faculty Liaison for the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments and Institute for Learning Environment Design (iLED) at the University of Central Oklahoma. She designs and coordinates the university's online Spanish courses and contributes to research and development for iLED analytics tools and learning innovation initiatives. Her research and presentation agenda focuses on learning innovation and learner success. She has received international recognition for her work in these areas and for her online teaching, learning environment design, and learner support strategies. Dr. Southerland is also a 2019 graduate of the Institute for Emerging Leaders in Online Learning (IELOL).
Bucky Dodd, Ph.D. is the Assistant Vice President for Education Strategy and Innovation with LX Studio at the University of Central Oklahoma. Dr. Dodd is an innovator, master teacher, and visionary of the future of education. He holds a Ph.D. in Education from Oklahoma State University and graduate and undergraduate degrees in Adult Education and Corporate Communications and maintains an active research and development agenda in these areas. As a prolific writer, teacher, and speaker on the future of education, his research focuses on visual planning and collaboration systems, innovation, and the design of learning experiences. Dr. Dodd is the creator of Learning Environment Modeling®, an award-winning visual collaboration system for the design and evaluation of learning experiences, and has been recognized internationally for his research and design expertise. He has a proven record of leading innovation initiatives in corporate, government, and education organizations and is consistently sought out as a thought leader on the future of learning.
John Gillmore is the Assistant Director of Instructional Technologies for the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments. In this role, John promotes the implementation of technological innovations; creates demonstrations of instructional applications of technologies; and researches, analyzes and evaluates new technologies for potential applications in instruction. John is a Research Fellow with the Institute for Learning Environment Design, an alumni of the Online Learning Consortium Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning, and is working towards his Ph.D. in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies at Oklahoma State University. John’s research interest is online teaching effectiveness.
Michael serves as the Director of Online Learning for the National Association of Attorneys General and the National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute.

Extended Abstract

Challenge and Solution Design:

Unlike other design fields, education lacks robust visual tools and a common language for facilitating clear, concise communication of knowledge and ideas during the design process. This lack can lead to poor decision making, miscommunication, delays, and frustration in the design process as well as gaps in the learning experience. Learning Environment Modeling (LEM) offers an innovative solution that improves communication and bridges innovation barriers in learning environment design experiences. This tangible visualization technique for expressing complex design ideas supports an effective and efficient design experience and advances the overarching goals of creating engaging learning experiences and improving learner success in physical, online, or blended learning environments.

Traditional learning environment design experiences are individual in nature and thereby focused on and constrained by the designer’s prior experiences and his or her vision and goals for a project. Communication challenges arise given that ideas often remain enclosed in the individual’s mind, invisible to others who need to understand and work in the learning environment due to the absence of effective methods for rendering concepts visible to others in a way that allows ideas to be expressed clearly and interpreted easily and accurately. Moreover, learning environment design experiences are becoming increasingly more collaborative, involving two or more people on a team. While this allows for the infusion of new and diverse ideas and perspectives, it exponentially increases the possibility of miscommunicating and misunderstanding when team members lack a shared design language.

LEM’s utility for supporting design experiences begins with the goal of empowering and catalyzing communication and collaboration. It allows design collaborators to present their thoughts and plans on an idea canvas so others can engage in the design process, rearranging and adding to the model to capture ideas as they evolve, and thereby inspiring creative and innovative designs. Intentional, strategic, coordinated implementation of LEM can assist educators in promoting student success. We also must ask how LEM can empower others who collaborate in the process of guiding students through their learning experiences—advisors, student organizations, campus academic leaders—to innovate approaches to improving student persistence, retention, graduation, and professional success.  We believe that others can be shown how to leverage LEM in strategic ways that maximize its potential for widespread impact in how it promotes high-quality, innovative, effective, and engaging learning environments and experiences in courses, programs, organizations, and students’ endeavors for personal and professional development.

More about Learning Environment Modeling:

LEM visual models are used in much the same way an architect or urban planner uses blueprints or site plans. When employed, these models create and communicate ideas essential for design decision making in an efficient and accurate manner.  However, LEM is useful only if educators and members of their learning environment design team understand what the model represents and how they can use it to benefit their design experience.

Learning Environment Modeling Language (LEML) makes this understanding possible by serving as a framework and a common, visual language for communicating key elements of a learning environment and its model. In the same way written and spoken languages allow us to communicate and develop shared understanding, LEML helps educators and learning environment architects communicate ideas and information relevant to learning environment design. As with any standardized language, it provides the primary benefit of equivalence across and between models.

As a visual language that consists of an easy-to-learn and easy-to-understand set of symbols that can be assembled together in limitless configurations to represent information about learning environment design, LEML reframes and innovates the design experience. Leveraging this user-friendly design language, LEM helps learning environment architects enhance communication and improve the value of learning environment design experiences. This cost-effective, easy to learn and use process can conveniently be utilized as a non-digital or digital design method, depending on the needs of the design team at given points in the design experience.

LEML is comprised of four primary features: Building Blocks, Contexts, Actions, and Notations:

1) Building Blocks define the elements in a learning environment and may also be referred to as “system nodes.”

2) Contexts identify different types of learning environment modes or spaces.

3) Actions depict relationships and flow between elements in a learning environment and may also be called “system connections.”

4) Notations supply supplemental information about the learning environment.

An LEM toolkit can be as minimal as a piece of paper and a pencil for drawing LEML symbols and annotations or Post-it notes representing LEML building blocks and markers to annotate connections and descriptive information, or more formal as when using a digital program for making visual drawings of LEML components.

LEM and LEML can be applied to any environment where learning and planning takes place and can be utilized both for creating new learning environment designs and for diagnosing existing designs. It is highly effective and invaluable as a catalyst for collaborative, innovative design practices additional consideration.  We plan to explore the question of how this solution can best help educators and organizations identify the benefits of LEM for problem solving and implementing and scaling it to accommodate the needs of instructional designers and the learners for whom they design.

Learning environment modeling and this project are part of an endeavor of the collaborative public-private partnership between the University of Central Oklahoma’s Institute for Learning Environment Design and NextThought, LLC, an innovative learning solutions provider. This Solution Design Summit team is comprised of leadership, faculty, and instructional designers from the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments (CeCE) at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) and NextThought, LLC. The team’s collective expertise reflects diversity across a wide range of interdisciplinary experience in: developing and implementing innovative learning environment design strategies for higher education, corporate, and government organizations; learning technology; learning solutions; administrative and business executive leadership; education and training; and professional development. Various team contributors have published in the field of learning environment design and have been recognized internationally for their research and learning environment design expertise. All team members maintain active presentation and consultation agendas and contribute to the development, implementation, and practical application LEM and LEML and participate in endeavors to help others discover how to utilize this solution to improve pedagogical practices in learning and instructional design. Team members include:

• Stacy Southerland, Ph.D., is a Professor of Spanish at the University of Central Oklahoma where she also serves as Faculty Liaison and EDU-Innovator Coordinator at the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments. She received her doctorate and master's degree in Spanish literature from Indiana University-Bloomington and her B.A. in Music and Spanish from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Her current work focuses on developing innovative online initiatives to promote learners’ success in both campus-based and online Spanish courses and working with faculty to develop blended learning initiatives.

• Rob Reynolds, Ph.D., is the Associate Director of UCO’s Institute for Learning Environment Design and Chief Learning Officer at NextThought, LLC. Rob received his doctorate is in Spanish from the University of Texas-Austin and began his career as a university faculty member and taught Spanish language and literature at the University of Oklahoma and served in university administration. He has been an active researcher and blogger in the educational technology space since 2003 and was co-founder of the successful educational technology startup, Xplana and authored The Future of Learning Content (2012).

• John Gillmore, ABD, holds an MBA from the University of Central Oklahoma and is working toward a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies. As Assistant Director of Instructional Technologies at UCO’s Center for eLearning and Connected Environments, John researches, analyzes and evaluates new technologies for potential applications in instruction and facilitates the implementation of technological innovations.  He also serves as a Research Fellow at UCO’s Institute for Learning Environment Design.

• Michael Willis, M.A., received his master’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma where he now serves as Assistant Director of Strategic Planning and Development at the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments. He has extensive experience in design, consulting, and information technology and also enjoys teaching Sociology at UCO.

• Milissa Copeland, M.ED., completed her master’s degree in Adult Education and Development at the University of Central Oklahoma. After 17 years in the corporate world as an HR trainer/facilitator and Coach where she became interested in online course development, she returned her home to UCO and her positions as Learning Environment Architect at the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments and instructor in Adult Education.